Theatre review - Funfair, HOME, Manchester

The Funfair, HOME, Manchester

The Funfair, HOME, Manchester - Credit: Archant

Sue Riley goes to see the world premiere of Funfair, the first theatre production at HOME, Manchester

When Manchester’s £25million arts and theatre complex Home opened last month they wanted to start with a play which was both contemporary and set in the city.

The Funfair has turned out to be a great choice. Written in 1932 just after the Wall Street Crash, Olivier-award winner Simon Stephens has updated it so the grimy funfair is now set in modern day Manchester where power, corruption, poverty, politics and the utter messiness of human life are all on show.

Set during one evening, it tells the story of Cash and Caroline who are in the process of splitting up. Caroline wants more, a better life and as the play unfolds she will do anything to get it. Then there’s Cash, wonderfully acted by Ben Batt, whose strong moral compass slowly becomes evident; two rich businessman who use their money and power to abuse women and then there’s the working class girls whose sexuality earns them money. It’s a powerful and dark piece, partly because battling power, politics and poverty are as current now as they were when the play was first written.

During the show it’s difficult not to judge the characters - the girls who will sell themselves for a few pounds and the men who think their money will buy them anything. Set at the funfair, a midget wields power over his ‘freaks’ just as the businessman use their wallets to control the impoverished girls. Victoria Gee is particularly good as Esther, the beaten up girlfriend of a local thug who is one of the few rounded characters in the piece. The set is wonderful as is the evocative staging and live music, yet the play (originally written as Kasimir and Karoline by Odon von Horvath) isn’t a perfect piece as so many of the characters are one dimensional. By the end of the play though it’s obvious that the true grotesques aren’t in the freak show - full of hairy ladies and two-headed men - at all. The truly grotesque characters are those who use their money and influence as a weapon against those less fortunate than themselves.

The show runs at Home, Manchester, until Saturday, June 13.